Eligible Food Items
Households CAN use SNAP benefits to buy:
- Foods for the household to eat, such as:
- breads and cereals;
- fruits and vegetables;
- meats, fish and poultry; and
- dairy products.
- Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.
In some areas, restaurants can be authorized to accept SNAP benefits from qualified homeless, elderly, or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals.
Households CANNOT use SNAP benefits to buy:
- Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco
- Any nonfood items, such as:
- pet foods
- soaps, paper products
- household supplies
- Vitamins and medicines
- Food that will be eaten in the store
- Hot foods
“Junk Food” & Luxury Items
The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (the Act) defines eligible food as any food or food product for home consumption and also includes seeds and plants which produce food for consumption by SNAP households. The Act precludes the following items from being purchased with SNAP benefits: alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption. Nonfood items such as pet foods, soaps, paper products, medicines and vitamins, household supplies, grooming items, and cosmetics, also are ineligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.
- Soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items
- Seafood, steak, and bakery cakes are also food items and are therefore eligible items
Since the current definition of food is a specific part of the Act, any change to this definition would require action by a member of Congress. Several times in the history of SNAP, Congress had considered placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased with program benefits. However, they concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome. Further detailed information about the challenges of restricting the use of SNAP benefits can be found here:
When considering the eligibility of energy drinks, and other branded products, the primary determinant is the type of product label chosen by the manufacturer to conform to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines:
- Energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label are eligible foods
- Energy drinks that have a supplement facts label are classified by the FDA as supplements, and are therefore not eligible
Generally live animals and birds are not eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits. Live seafood such as lobsters, fish and shellfish may be purchased with SNAP benefits.
Pumpkins, Holiday Gift Baskets, and Special Occasion Cakes
Pumpkins are edible and eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits. However, inedible gourds and pumpkins that are used solely for ornamental purposes are not eligible items.
Gift baskets that contain both food and non-food items, are not eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits if the value of the non-food items exceeds 50 percent of the purchase price. To read our most recent notice about Gift Baskets, click here.
Items such as birthday and other special occasion cakes are eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits as long as the value of non-edible decorations does not exceed 50 percent of the purchase price of the cake.
IMPORTANT SNAP INFORMATION
Grocery Bag Fees
Recently some States have begun charging customers a fee for each shopping bag (plastic and/or paper)
provided by a grocery store. Other States are considering charging grocery bag fees as well. State’s
grocery bag fees may not be paid for with SNAP benefits. In addition, the Food and Nutrition Service
does not have authority to exempt SNAP clients from this fee. Therefore, grocery bag fees must be paid
for using cash, credit card, or non-SNAP debit. Stores that give discounts at the point-of-sale if customers
bring their own bags must treat SNAP clients in the same manner.
SNAP licensed retailers may not charge state or local sales tax on SNAP purchases. This does NOT mean
that food items that are subject to sales tax (e.g. soft drinks, snack foods, etc) are ineligible. Eligible items
that are subject to sales tax may still be purchased with SNAP benefits. Sales tax, however, cannot be
charged when SNAP is used to make the purchase. Sales tax can, however, be charged on the portion of
eligible items paid for with manufacturers or other discount coupons. Such tax cannot be paid with SNAP
Seasonal Gift Items
Holiday gift baskets for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mothers Day, Thanksgiving, Holiday stockings, and
seasonal items like holiday tins are NOT eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits if the value of the
nonfood part of the item clearly accounts for more than 50% of the purchase price.
A stuffed holiday bear sold with a small package of chocolate for $14.99 would not be eligible for
SNAP purchase, but
A gift basket consisting primarily of meats and cheeses or snack foods, and including a small toy —
where the cost of the food items clearly accounts for more than 50% of the purchase price of the
item — would be eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.
Baskets and holiday stockings that contain any amount of alcohol, cigarettes, cat, dog, or other pet food
and/or pet toys may not be purchased with SNAP benefits.